Sealant Replacement Guide for Condominium Managers

Maintaining a condominium community is not an easy task.

There are lots of moving parts and parties involved – all with sometimes competing or conflicting priorities.

And on top of the day-to-day tasks, one of the main responsibilities of a condominium manager and their respective board, is accurately assessing and planning the large projects that will affect their entire community.

Sealant replacement projects in particular require a significant amount of planning, especially in high-rise and skyscraper buildings.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Stewart Handrahan from Synergy Partners Consulting to learn some of the factors that should be taken into account when considering a sealant replacement project.

How long should sealants last?

Typically, sealants should last 15 to 20 years between full replacement.

This of course depends on a few additional factors:

  • Quality of Installation
    • Poor or improperly installed sealants may not provide enough flexibility for building expansion and contraction, or may not have an adequate bond to the substrate they are applied to.
  • Quality of Materials Used
    • Different types of sealant have different lifespans.
      • Silicone (inorganic) are expected to last longer than polyurethane (organic) due to their chemical makeup, but material costs are higher. There are also specific design considerations that may lead to using one material type over another beyond durability and cost considerations.
  • Exposure
    • The location of a building and its sealed joints may affect how quickly the sealants start to fail, or how quickly leaks develop.
      • Sealed joints which are directly exposed to the elements (rain, UV rays, snow, etc…), may deteriorate at a faster rate than those which are sheltered by balconies or canopies for example.
  • Design Details
    • How the wall assembly was designed to manage water can also affect the lifespan of sealants.
      • ‘Barrier’ wall systems rely wholly on the outer sealant to keep water out of the wall assembly, whereas ‘drained’ systems rely on inner seals (typically not visible from the exterior) to act as the primary moisture barrier with an outer seal intended to keep bulk water away from the inner seal.
      • In a drained system, any water that makes its way past the outer seal is stopped at the inner seal and drained to the exterior by a drainage cavity and weep holes at the bottom of the wall.
      • Drained systems require perfect, or near perfect sealant conditions to keep water out of the wall assembly and therefore tend to more sensitive to imperfections in the installation quality and deterioration of sealants over time.

I just have a few localized leaks, can I just address them individually?

Depending on the location and time since the sealants were last applied, this might be an option.

Replacing the individual sealants may not even fix the leak if the root cause is not well understood, or detailing of the replacement sealant is not detailed properly.

Repeated repair attempts to address isolated leakage, if not well thought-out or detailed properly may result in costly re-work and repeated disruptions to residents.

For these reasons, it is worth considering the investment of having an engineer with the support of a contractor properly test and investigate the root cause, and design an adequate repair.

At what point should we consider a full sealant project?

If there are localized issues and it has been between 15 and 20 years since the last time the sealants were replaced, continuing to address each individual issue may not be the optimal repair strategy, especially if there are sufficient funds set aside in the reserve fund plan for the next few years.

The lower-cost option overall may be to forgo targeted repairs and to advance full sealant replacement, even if it is not planned in the reserve fund study for a few years. If advancing the sealant replacement project creates cashflow issues for the fund, the board and management should consider whether other planned projects can be deferred, or if a targeted repair program will help defer sealant replacement until there are adequate funds in the reserve account.

When considering repair and replacement options the board and management should take into consideration the amount of time and effort each strategy will require for management to coordinate (i.e. will their time be taken up over the next few years having leaks fixed when they could be focusing on other things) and how much disruption and inconvenience leaks and subsequent repairs will cause residents.

Another consideration that may help with cashflow considerations, is whether or not it is feasible to phase out sealant replacement over a number of years.

The corporation’s engineer will be able to provide some guidance about the feasibility of phasing the work, and potential for increased costs with such an approach. Ultimately, this will depend on the specifics of each building, methods of access, and overall size of the project.

What is the best way to stay proactive about reserve fund planning?

One of the most effective ways to ensure project funding will be there when it is needed, is to look more than 30 years ahead when planning.

A building’s maintenance costs from years 1 to 30 are drastically different than in years 30 to 60, even though they are both 30 year spans.

After multiple interior refurbishments, windows, sealants, siding, and mechanical equipment replacements, by around 50 years the building will hardly have any original components beyond the structure and parts of the electrical and plumbing systems. 

And while it is easy to find reasons to keep maintenance fees low, the short-term benefits of low fees do not compare favorably to the long term consequences of an underfunded reserve fund.

With a well-funded reserve fund and well-maintained building, unit-owners can be confident their physical assets will hold their value over the long term. 

Focusing on keeping fees as low as possible can only last so long before something gives. Condo boards must take their role as asset managers to heart and plan for life-cycle renewal with a long-term time horizon in mind.

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